Tucked away amidst the verdant expanse of the Serra de Monchique mountain range lies Monchique, a tranquil town that offers a refreshing contrast to the bustling coastal regions of the Algarve. With a modest population of around 6,000, Monchique is a haven for those seeking a more authentic and rural Algarvian experience. The town’s location, enveloped by thick forests and undulating hills, makes it a prime destination for nature enthusiasts. The panoramic views from the mountains are nothing short of breathtaking, and the myriad of trails beckon hikers to explore the region’s natural beauty.
Monchique’s charm extends beyond its scenic landscapes. The town has managed to preserve its traditional essence, evident in its craftsmanship, architecture, and culinary offerings. As you meander through its winding, cobbled streets, you’re greeted by a tapestry of vibrant houses, each painted in cheerful hues that seem to capture the essence of the town’s spirit. Every corner turned reveals a new surprise, a testament to the town’s rich history and culture. Before long, you’ll find yourself in the heart of Monchique, the central plaza. This lively hub is dotted with a plethora of restaurants, cafés, and bars, each inviting you to take a momentary pause. With its verdant open spaces, soothing fountains, and panoramic views of the encompassing hills, the plaza exudes a charm that’s hard to resist.
Visitors are treated to a delightful array of traditional Portuguese dishes, often accompanied by the warmth of a roaring fire in the colder months. This commitment to tradition and authenticity makes Monchique a culinary and cultural gem in the Algarve.
One of Monchique’s standout features is its year-round appeal. The summer months provide a cool respite from the heat of the coast, often accompanied by a gentle breeze that rustles through the trees. Winter, on the other hand, offers cosy eateries and the comfort of hearty meals. Springtime is particularly enchanting, with wildflowers carpeting the landscape, adding vibrant hues to the green backdrop. Regardless of the season, Monchique promises a serene and rejuvenating experience, making it a must-visit for anyone exploring the Algarve.
Useful Resources for Your Trip to Monchique
Here’s our top tips and tricks for getting the best deals for your trip to Monchique.
- Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in Monchique.
- Car Rental: Discover Cars and Rental Cars are the two most useful sites for booking local car rental.
- Airport transfers: There are taxis and Ubers at Faro Airport, but you can also pre-book an airport transfer with Welcome Pickups.
- Tours & Things to Do: Both Get Your Guide and Viator list lots of local tours and activities in Monchique and the surrounding Central Algarve region.
- Luggage Storage: Luggage Hero and Bounce are two great sites for finding places to store your luggage in Portugal. More options can be found in our article about luggage storage in the Algarve.
- Public Transport: Cp.pt is the main website for trains in Portugal. For longer distance buses, see Rede Expressos. Flixbus.pt often has cheap tickets between cities in Portugal.
- Flights: Skyscanner and Google Flights are the two most useful websites for finding flights to Portugal. The nearest airport to Monchique is Faro Airport.
What to Do
Nestled within the Serra de Monchique is the renowned mountain peak of Fóia. Standing tall at 902 meters, it proudly claims the title of the Algarve’s highest point. Ascending to its summit rewards visitors with breathtaking panoramas of the Algarve’s picturesque coastline. On days when the sky is crystal clear, one can gaze upon the bustling cities of Portimão and Lagos to the south, and stretch their view westward all the way to the iconic Cabo de São Vicente.
For those with an adventurous spirit, hiking from Monchique to Fóia offers an immersive experience. The typical trail incorporates a segment of the famed Via Algarvana hiking route, with a slight detour leading to Fóia’s peak. Spanning approximately 12km in total, this hike demands around 6 hours of your time, making it a journey best suited for those not pressed for time. However, for those who prefer a more leisurely approach, the peak is easily accessible by road, complete with ample parking space.
Upon reaching the summit, visitors are greeted by more than just the views. A quaint café, a delightful restaurant, and a gallery showcasing local artistry await. Despite its prime location and the influx of tourists, the café offers surprisingly reasonable prices. A simple café costs around €0.90, while a meia de leite is priced at €1.60. For the famished hikers, a range of sandwiches and tostas are available for about €2-3, and more substantial dishes like salads and omelettes can be enjoyed for €5-7. However, it’s worth noting that the café and restaurant can get quite busy, especially when tour buses arrive. For those seeking a quieter spot, a short stroll will lead to a hidden gem: a charming food truck that serves delectable coffee, cakes, and refreshing juices.
Serra da Picota
Just a stone’s throw away from Monchique, in the opposite direction, lies the serene peak of Serra da Picota. Standing at 774 meters, it may not rival the height of its neighboring Fóia, but it certainly doesn’t fall short in offering breathtaking vistas. As the second highest point in the Algarve, Serra da Picota is nestled within the same mountain range but promises a more tranquil and untouched experience.
Unlike the bustling peak of Fóia, Serra da Picota is devoid of cafés, tourist shops, or galleries. Instead, it beckons those in search of solitude, pristine nature, and panoramic views that stretch as far as the eye can see. For those who enjoy a good trek, the peak is roughly a two-hour hike from Monchique, allowing one to immerse themselves in the beauty of the region.
While it’s technically possible to drive up to Picota, it’s not an endeavor for the faint-hearted. The journey involves navigating a narrow, single-track road that’s notably steep, with limited spaces for passing or turning. Those considering this route should exercise caution and be prepared for a challenging drive. However, for those who brave the hike or the drive, the reward is an unparalleled view and a moment of peace atop one of the Algarve’s most majestic points.
Caldas de Monchique
Caldas de Monchique, also known as Termas de Monchique, is a quaint village located just south of Monchique. This village is renowned for its therapeutic springs, which have been recognised for their healing properties since Roman times, as evidenced by numerous archaeological findings. T
he spring water here is unique, boasting an unusually high pH of 9.5 and maintaining a consistent temperature between 29 and 31 degrees Celsius. The alkaline-rich warm waters are believed to be beneficial for relaxation and are also said to aid in the treatment of respiratory ailments and rheumatism.
While the village itself offers a tranquil square surrounded by trees and fountains, it has evolved into a modern spa destination. Today, the area encompasses a hotel complex with four hotels, a variety of bars, and restaurants. Visitors flock to Caldas de Monchique not only for its serene ambiance but also to indulge in a range of spa treatments.
Parque da Mina
Parque da Mina offers visitors a unique blend of cultural immersion and fun-filled activities. At its heart lies an 18th-century manor house that’s presented as a museum but as a living, breathing space. Everything inside is meticulously arranged, giving the impression that its original inhabitants might walk in at any moment, preserving the essence of life from over 50 years ago.
The park’s theme revolves around an old iron ore mine, providing an insightful glimpse into its operations. Beyond the mine, visitors can explore a medronho distillery, showcasing the traditional production of this local spirit. The park’s surroundings in the Sierra de Monchique offer a scenic nature trail, dotted with perfect picnic spots amidst the trees.
For those with families, Parque da Mina has lots to offer. A petting zoo houses a variety of animals, from playful dwarf goats to Vietnamese pigs. Younger guests can enjoy a dedicated playground, while thrill-seekers can experience the excitement of a rope slide.
Igreja da Misericórdia de Monchique
The Igreja Matriz de Monchique, or the Church of Monchique, stands as a testament to the rich architectural heritage of the Algarve region. Dating back to the 16th century, this church is believed to have been erected on the grounds of a previous mosque or another church. What sets this church apart is its distinctive Manueline style, a Portuguese architectural style from the early 16th century. However, the Igreja Matriz de Monchique offers a unique twist to this style, most notably through its nautical-themed embellishments. Visitors are often captivated by the intricate designs of twisted ropes that adorn both the main and side entrances. This maritime motif continues inside, where the support columns of the main nave also showcase the same carved twisted ropes, a detail unparalleled in any other church in the Algarve.
The church’s interior is equally impressive, featuring three naves separated by robust pillars and a side chapel that exemplifies the Manueline style. Additionally, the church houses a modest museum, offering visitors a glimpse into the religious artifacts of the region, including some items originating from a nearby convent. This combination of unique architectural details and historical artifacts makes the Igreja Matriz de Monchique a must-visit for those keen on exploring the cultural tapestry of the Algarve.
Convento do Monchique
Perched on a hill overlooking the town of Monchique, the Convento Nossa Senhora do Desterro, or simply Convento do Monchique, stands as a silent testament to the passage of time and the resilience of history. This 17th-century monastery, once bustling with the Franciscan order of monks, now lies in ruins, its walls echoing tales of its storied past. The devastating earthquake of 1755, which wreaked havoc across Lisbon, also shook the very foundations of this monastery. Though it was initially reconstructed after the quake, the passage of time and subsequent abandonment have left it in a state of picturesque decay.
Today, nature has woven its way through the ancient stones of the convent, creating a harmonious blend of history and wilderness. Among the overgrown flora stands a magnificent specimen: reputedly Europe’s largest magnolia tree, a silent guardian of the monastery’s grounds. The ruins, though seemingly desolate, are not entirely uninhabited. A few eccentric locals have made the convent their home, and they warmly welcome visitors, allowing them to explore the remnants of this once-sacred place.
The journey to the Convento do Monchique is an experience in itself. A 15-minute uphill walk from the heart of Monchique, the path is dotted with signs guiding the way. The ascent is well worth the effort, not just for the haunting beauty of the ruins but also for the panoramic views of Monchique that the vantage point offers. The monastery, despite being on private land, has seen its owners graciously open its gates to curious travellers, inviting them to step back in time and witness the interplay of nature and history.
What to Eat & Drink
Nestled inland within the Algarve, Monchique boasts a rich culinary tapestry that is both distinct from the coastal regions and deeply rooted in tradition. While the Algarve is renowned for its seafood, Monchique’s gastronomy leans more towards meat, particularly pork, reflecting its inland location and the agricultural practices of its inhabitants.
The town’s culinary offerings are a testament to the preservation of age-old recipes and techniques, handed down through generations. The array of sausages, crafted from pork and seasoned with the wisdom of countless forebears, is a prime example. Delicacies such as chouriça, farinheira, and assadura showcase the region’s penchant for utilising every part of the pig, a practice born out of necessity and resourcefulness.
Monchique’s dishes are a celebration of both the bounty of the land and the ingenuity of its people. The cuisine here is reminiscent of a time before the introduction of certain ingredients, like potatoes from the Americas in the 16th century. Instead, dishes often incorporate crushed chestnuts, evoking flavours from an era when the culinary landscape was vastly different. This commitment to authenticity ensures that every meal in Monchique is a journey through time, offering a taste of genuine and ancient flavours.
Among the must-try dishes in Monchique are:
- Medronho: A local spirit distilled from the fruit of the medronho tree.
- Assadura: A traditional pork dish, showcasing the region’s expertise in meat preparation.
- Feijão com Arroz: A hearty combination of beans and rice.
- Couve à Monchique: A cabbage dish prepared in the Monchique style.
- Besnegas and Caldo Mouro: Both are traditional soups, each with its unique blend of ingredients and flavours.
- Feijão com Couve: Beans cooked with cabbage, a staple in many Portuguese households.
- Grão com Arroz and Grão com Massa: Dishes that combine chickpeas with either rice or pasta.
- Papas de Milho: A corn-based dish that is both filling and flavourful.
- Tiborna: A simple dish that combines homemade bread, garlic cloves, oil, salt, and orange juice.
Note: Although many dishes seem vegetarian (e.g. beans with cabbage or beans and rice), meat is usually added or used in the stock. Double check dishes are vegetarian if you don’t eat meat.
Among its most celebrated offerings is the fiery ‘medronho’, a traditional Portuguese fruit brandy distilled from the berries of the strawberry tree. This spirited drink, with its robust flavour, is deeply rooted in the region’s culture and is a must-try for anyone visiting. It’s worth picking up a bottle while you’re here, especially if you’re able to get a more homemade version from the Monchique market.
Equally emblematic of Monchique is the iconic Monchique chair, often referred to as the “scissor chair” due to its unique folding design. Crafted with precision and showcasing the region’s woodworking prowess, these chairs are both functional and aesthetically pleasing, making them a sought-after souvenir.
Beyond these, Monchique takes pride in its culinary delights, notably its delectable sausages and rich, aromatic local honey. Each of these products tells a story of the town’s traditions, making them perfect keepsakes or gifts for those wishing to take a piece of Monchique back home.
Monchique is definitely easiest to get to by car, but you can also get here by bus.
- Flying: The nearest airport to Monchique is Faro Airport, which is roughly an hour by car. There is also a very small, regional airport in Portimão, which offers flights to some destinations in Portugal.
- Train: There is no train station in Monchique and the nearest stop is in Portimão. From here, you will need to take a bus or taxi to Monchique.
- Bus: There are several regional buses to Monchique, including one between Portimão and Monchique, which is operated by Vamus.pt. For long distance coaches, you will need to take a bus to Portimão and then get a connecting bus to Monchique. For long distance coaches, see Rede Expressos or Flixbus.pt.
- Car: Monchique is situated roughly an hour and 5 minutes from Faro and 2 hours and 50 minutes from Lisbon.